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Title I Needs a National Standard

June 28, 2012

Today’s NYTimes features an article by a parent decrying the fact that her child’s school, PS 9, has 59.1 percent of its students on free and reduced lunches,  just under the NYC Title I threshold of 60 percent. As a result, PS 9 is losing $360,000 in federal funds and, consequently, losing teachers.

Here’s what the parent doesn’t know (and the article doesn’t point out):

  • The 60% threshold is a NYC standard, NOT a Federal standard
  • There are districts that have NO schools with 60% free and reduced lunch counts that get Title I money
  • Until a few years ago, there were affluent districts with pockets of poor children who received Title I funds— funds that “followed the child”
  • Even WITH the Title I funds to supplement their school, PS 9’s per pupil spending will be well below that of the affluent suburbs that surround NYC.

The Title I funding raises several questions:

  • Should the Federal government be responsible for equalizing education spending or should the State?
  • IF the Federal government is going to play a role in equalizing education spending, shouldn’t it channel money exclusively to only those districts with high poverty levels?
  • IF the Federal government DOES limit Title I funds to the poorest districts, shouldn’t there be a federal standard for a “low income school”?

These questions don’t have easy answers… and because of that we continue to use Title I to “sort of” equalize education spending, to provide Title I funds to districts with poverty levels that are arguably NOT as daunting as those in the urban areas, and to provide Title I funds without strings attached that might change practices in terms of assigning low-income students to schools with middle-class demographics.

Sadly, this practice isn’t going to change any time soon, in large measure because it isn’t even talked about. If Federal dollars are going to be scarce and if those dollars are being appropriated in a fashion that is intended to leverage change (i.e. Race To The Top), why not allocate Federal dollars to those districts who make an effort to assign low-income students to schools with middle-class demographics. The most perverse result of NYC’s allocation formula is that it effectively rewards the segregation of low income students.

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